Copyright MediaConnex Asia 2017
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Interview with Leon Tan | Founder of Imaginex Studios, Tripod Entertainment, DragonSlate Media and POSTAM

Media Connex speaks with Leon Tan, the founder of Imaginex Studios, Tripod Entertainment, DragonSlate Media and POSTAM.


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Image Credit: Leon Tan

 

With his extensive portfolio, and his transformative initiatives, Leon has become a veteran in film/animation, and is extremely knowledgable about South-East Asia’s media industry:

 

What is your mission?

I’ve always believed that the cinematic arts is the most powerful and immersive medium available to human society today – to educate, entertain, share ideas and perspectives, and most importantly capture and preserve perfectly complete works of art and expressions for future generations, so that they may know us and our times, in the same way we peer into a time machine of sorts when we watch old movies.

However, I do think that at this moment the cinema – especially its popular expression – is currently dominated by Hollywood and Western filmmaking.

I don’t disagree with the Western contribution to the cinematic arts, but I do think that, on the other side of the planet, the Asia-Pacific region and Southeast Asia in particular have so much to offer in the cinematic arts – as creators, storytellers, producers, investors and as an audience.

Why is it that the Asian region may have been making films since the birth of cinema, yet our global impact is minimal compared to Western film?  It’s not that our stories are bad.  It is because the enterprise of film needs each element of the process – both creative and commercial – to be at the top of their game.  I believe the West have successfully developed both sides of the coin in the filmmaking process, and with that they’ve made a huge global impact.  For Asia to do the same, both our creative and commercial skills for film must work in tandem.  Certainly, we’ve made great strides in our domestic markets, but the prize is to ultimately have a cultural impact across borders.

This is the challenge, and mission, for our group of companies, to produce “filmed entertainment” – feature films, TV, new media – that can draw a global audience, by addressing the discipline of crafting creative yet commercial works that can play across borders.  That we’re in Malaysia is immaterial.  The work should be universal, even if our creative and commercial origins are Malaysian.

 

How did you begin your career?

I’ve been in this industry 12 years now, but I didn’t start out in the filmmaking world, but I was that geeky kid who was more fascinated by the “how did they do that!” questions than the films themselves.  I blame Star Wars for that (the originals, not the prequels!).

After uni, I was a business journalist and then moved on to corporate finance at the Usaha Tegas group of companies, before taking on management roles during the dotcom era at Catcha group and Lycos Asia.

The adventures were great (and very formative), with stints in Jakarta, Shanghai and Singapore, but ultimately I came to a point where I wanted to build something on my own.  So, in 2003 I left Singapore to return home to Malaysia, where at the time government investment agencies were looking for homegrown media/content start-ups with international ambitions.

I entered the world of post-production with Imaginex Studios, raised capital from government venture capitalist MAVCAP; and then started developing Intellectual Property, first in animation with a company I co-founded called Tripod Entertainment, and then in live-action Film and TV projects at DragonSlate Media which I co-founded with former Dune Entertainment chairman and film industry veteran (the late) Greg Coote.

 

How do you intend to move forward?

As of now, it’s all systems go:

  • Imaginex Studios continues to put out great audio post-production work, recently winning Best Sound at the 27th Festival Filem Malaysia Awards for our audio work in the Malaysian-Taiwanese horror film “Yulan: Hungry Ghost Ritual”.
  • Tripod’s 3D stereoscopic animated feature “War of the Worlds: Goliath” saw distribution in North America last year and continues its sales worldwide.
  • And DragonSlate is producing a slate of films, including “Full Throttle”, its motorcycle action film which was recently announced at this year’s Cannes Film Festival with Stephen Windon (cinematographer of “Fast & Furious 7” and the upcoming “Star Trek Beyond”) attached to direct, and Andrew Mason (executive producer/producer of the “Matrix” trilogy, “Saving Mr Banks” and “The Water Diviner”) attached to produce.

Moving forward, we hope to progress our Film and TV projects at DragonSlate with various partners worldwide, while being produced and finished in Malaysia.  This ups the ante for Imaginex Studios in terms of upgrading creative, innovation and quality delivery, and this can only be good for Malaysia’s post talent.  And with an existing calling card like “War of the Worlds: Goliath”, Tripod will also seek to forge new ground in the animation space in this ecosystem.

 

  1. May we please have your opinion on the following questions:
    1. How do you think that the film/animation industry will grow?
    2. In terms of media distribution, will OTT (Over-the-top Platforms) overtake Cable?

It looks like it now, doesn’t it?  Certainly the take-up rate will increase as more OTT services compete with each other for market share, coupled with rising and improving Internet access especially wireless.

I’m not sure if it will kill Cable completely (just as Free-to-air remains even during the time of Pay TV and PPV), but the biggest change that is upon us is that the products we consume via OTT will change – capitalizing on unfettered reimagining of formats, durations and viewing behavioral patterns (for e.g. “binging” on demand, instead of waiting for scheduled broadcasts).  Creators must not just learn to tap these opportunities, but commercialise them as well.

 

Which types of media (e.g. games, animation, film) are investors primarily interested in? Are they equally interested in multifarious platforms?

That’s a tough and broad question.  At the risk of oversimplifying things, I will say this:

It is certainly necessary to explore all areas of engaging the audience, from the traditional channels to multiplatforms.  Do the homework and make the call.  However, all this is naught without good product, in this case the content that engages the viewer, and in this aspect there are two ends of the spectrum –

  • Content that already has a built-in audience, either as existing comics or books, games or even reboots of earlier film/TV IP. Work out the commercial potential and deals BEFORE entering production, make sure you have the right team to execute, and try to use your head more than your heart in the entire process (because, I’d assume, if you’re already committed to the project your heart was already won the first round!).
  • At the same time, you can’t ignore the need to look out for the Next Big Thing – and that’s talent. Emerging writers, directors – essentially, storytellers.  This is “terra incognito”, there’s no blueprint.  One must approach it a little like a venture capitalist banking on entrepreneurs with ideas for products without an existing market (yet).  But the pay off will be massive if you hit it big.

 

I would say, if you’re an investor serious about this industry, have a two-pronged approach to address both areas:

  • Invest in commercially-viable projects as laid out above, but mitigate the risk by financing the gap, let the producers do the homework – script, team, distribution deals with advances in place, soft monies, etc. – to convince you to come in at the end. Gap financing not just mitigates risk, it avoids the trap of banking all hopes on only 1-2 movies – instead you have a portfolio of movie investments you gap-financed, increasing your chances of success.
  • Keep a sliver of funds to experiment and capture the Next Big Thing. You might find the next Quentin Tarantino or James Wan.  Select emerging filmmakers with cutting-edge ideas for films, BUT keep the budgets low (I am thinking even USD 100k low).  Not only will you keep your costs (and risks down), you also press these new filmmakers to be resourceful, disciplined and build their craft in a street-smart way.  They’ll thank you for it when they become big.

 

imaginex-studiosImage Credit: Leon Tan, Imaginex Studios

Career

Leon owns Imaginex Studios, a production studio that is based in Kuala Lumpur. Since 1997, Imaginex Studios specializes in the production of “audio works for live-action and animated feature films, TV series, games of all platforms, online/mobile content, and thousands of TV and radio commercials worldwide.”

 

How was Imaginex Studios founded?

Imaginex Studios was founded in 1997/1998 in Kuala Lumpur, essentially by New Zealander Mike Bloemendal and myself.  Mike has an incredible talent for music and audio engineering, with over 25 years developing his expertise in this niche space.

 

What is Imaginex Studio’s mission?

Mike and I sought to build Malaysia’s version of Park Road Post or Skywalker Sound (although not with their type of budgets!).  Essentially, a one-stop world-class audio post-production studio to provide audio for visual projects.  Music, sound design/effects/foley, voice casting/direction, sound recordings/editing, and final mixes in surround (and Atmos in the future) for animation/live-action feature films, TV shows, games, commercials, new media content.

 

How did you sustain the company?

By expanding our reach to cover not just the usual domestic TV commercial market, which many audio houses here tend to do.  From the start we were always engaging international markets, even if it meant pounding the pavements at MIPTV, MIPCOM, Hongkong Filmart or Singapore’s ATF.  We not only looked beyond our borders, we also engaged potential clients outside of advertising – TV producers, animation studios, film producers, game developers and the like.

 

How do you intend to grow the company?

More of the same, but more aggressive.  And on the flip side of the coin, continue to make key upgrades to our studios and infrastructure, and training and exposure of our team and seeking new talents.  Lots of promising nuggets of talent out there, even in Malaysia.

 

May we please have some examples of projects that you have previously worked on?

1) “War of the Worlds: Goliath” by Tripod Entertainment:

Imaginex Studios provided all audio, from music scoring to voice casting/direction (a US-Malaysian cast), sound design/foley and audio engineering/final mix.  Our work won Best Sound Design, Asia Image Apollo Awards 2013, Singapore, beating contenders from all over Asia Pacific.

 

2) “Saladin: The Animated Series”, a co-production between the governments of Malaysia and Qatar (via Al-Jazeera Children’s Channel):

This was a groundbreaking TV series and we were proud to be involved in creating the soundscape to a thrilling adventure for children/young teens.  Imaginex Studios provided all audio, from music scoring to voice casting/direction (in English and Arabic), sound design/foley and audio engineering/final mix.  “Saladin” received an International Emmy nomination.

 

3) Malaysian/regional feature films, including:

– “Seefood” animated feature film by Silver Ant: International release.

– “Bunohan: Return to Murder” arthouse thriller by Apparat Films: International release, Imaginex Studios won Best Music Score and Best Sound at the 25th Festival Filem Malaysia.

– “Yulan: Hungry Ghost Ritual” horror movie: Malaysian-Taiwanese film, Imaginex won Best Sound at the 27th Festival Filem Malaysia.

– “Yugo & Lala” and its sequel, a Chinese animated feature film that broke records at the mainland China box office.

– Domestic films such as “KL Zombi”, “Amir & Loqman Pergi ke Laut”, the award-winning “Lelaki Harapan Dunia” and the recently-released “Polis EVO”.

We’ve also worked on games from major industry giants including Tecmo and Nintendo, as well as regional developers.  And provided audio to over 1,000 TV commercials.

 

  1. Are there any external initiatives that Imaginex Studios is involved with?

We are developing a new sound effects library that will be commercially released online, as part of the expansion of Imaginex Studios audio offering.  This project is supported by a grant programme by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).  Watch this space for more info!

 

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Image Credit: Leon Tan, Tripod Entertainment

Tripod Entertainment – Animation Production House

 

What does Tripod Entertainment specialise in?

Tripod is principally an animation production company.  We’re producers (we don’t run animation studios), putting together animated projects – from development to production to post-production – either as our own (or co-owned IP), or as producers for clients’ animation projects.

 

What is Tripod Entertainment’s mission?

We want to bring the best of Malaysian and international talents together to develop animation projects for a global audience, and exploit inherent IP opportunities simultaneously.  While these are internationally-minded projects with international partners, the production and the heart is quintessentially Malaysian.

 

How was Tripod Entertainment founded?

After several years into Imaginex Studios’ life, I was at the Tokyo International Film Festival and Market (this was 2006), and met a guy on the bus who turned out to be an experienced US animation producer/director/art director – Joe Pearson.  We talked and started sharing IP ideas, and that was how Tripod Entertainment Sdn Bhd was born – a Malaysian joint venture by Joe and Imaginex Studios, also funded by MAVCAP.

 

How did you sustain the company?

We raised funds to make our first animated feature, a stereoscopic 3D film called “War of the Worlds: Goliath”.  That kept Tripod busy for several years, from development, to production and release, and commercialization.  It was a major production at the time, the first Malaysian-US-Korean animation project venture, and involved luminaries like Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, who was our Executive Producer, and David Abramowitz, the head writer of the critically-acclaimed “Highlander” TV series, who was our writer-producer.  The 2D cel animation was handled by Sun Min Image Pictures in Seoul, who are also the studio for Cartoon Network’s “Ben 10” and Disney XD’s “Avengers Assemble”.

 

On the side, we also developed animation projects for select clients, including Al Jazeera Children’s Channel and France’s aerospace company Arianespace.

 

How do you intend to grow the company?

We continue to seek animation opportunities, although admittedly nowadays it’s tough being an indie animation producer in a global market where expensive and sophisticated animation productions dominate.  This is quite different from live-action films, where low-budget indie films still can build a significant audience.

 

May we please have some examples of projects that you have previously worked on?

“War of the Worlds: Goliath” would be our signature project.

 

Do you create your own IP? If not, do you intend to do so in the future?

“War of the Worlds: Goliath” IP is Tripod’s and internally generated.  And yes, we will continue to develop our own IP should the market respond positively to them.

 

If you do create your own IP, may we please know which organisations invest/co-produce your projects?

“War of the Worlds: Goliath” was funded by four Malaysian agencies/institutions: Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MAVCAP), Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN), Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) and National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS).

 


DragonSlate Media

DragonSlate Media was founded in 2013, and is established in Los Angeles, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It develops, produces and finances English films and TV projects for an international audience. It combines connects veterans from Hollywood with talent and resources in Malaysia and in the Asia Pacific region.

 

How was DragonSlate Media founded?

DragonSlate Media Sdn Bhd was founded by myself and the late Greg Coote, an esteemed film industry veteran, in 2013.  Greg was Founder and CEO of Village Roadshow Pictures which greenlit “The Matrix”, and also Chairman and CEO of Dune Entertainment which co-financed over sixty 20th Century Fox movies, including James Cameron’s “Avatar”.  Although Greg’s untimely demise was mourned, DragonSlate continues to build its slate of Film and TV projects with the foundation he left behind which has been further enhanced since by DragonSlate’s international team of film development/producing professionals headquartered in Kuala Lumpur with offices in Los Angeles and Singapore.

 

What is DragonSlate Media’s mission?

We want to bring the best of Malaysian and international talents together to develop live-action Film and TV projects for a global audience, and exploit inherent IP opportunities simultaneously.  While these are internationally-minded projects with international partners, the production and the heart is quintessentially Malaysian.

 

How did you sustain the company?

Internal resources, and getting our movies and TV projects made.

 

How do you intend to grow the company?

Pretty much building our slate of Film and TV projects, putting them together with the right talent/crew, resources, financing and distribution deals – which are different for every project – and greenlighting them along the way into production and release.

 

May we please have some examples of projects that you have previously worked on?

Some of the projects we hope to enter production in the next 12 months are:

  • “Full Throttle”, a motorcycle action film (“Fast and Furious on motorbikes”) set in Singapore/Kuala Lumpur, to be directed by Stephen Windon (cinematographer of four of the “Fast and Furious” movies including “Furious 7” which at USD 1.3 billion now the 5th highest box office movie of all time – Stephen is currently shooting “Star Trek Beyond”). My producer partner is Andrew Mason, executive producer of “The Matrix” trilogy, Alex Proyas’ “Dark City”, Tom Hanks’ “Saving Mr Banks”, Russel Crowe’s “The Water Diviner” and others. See here: http://www.screendaily.com/news/furious-7-cinematographer-to-direct-full-throttle/5087260.article
  • “Gifted”, a Chinese coming-of-age drama/comedy to be shot in Beijing, with Chinese production partners.
  • “Royal Blood”, a reimagining of the Malay legend “Raja Bersiong” about the Vampire King of ancient Langkasuka, this time set in 21st century Kuala Lumpur.
  • “The Harrowing”, a smart horror thriller to be shot in Vancouver.
  • “Saladin”, a TV mini-series currently envisioned as a Malaysian-Middle Eastern production. Set in the 12th century in Egypt and Syria, the story centres on young Yusuf ibn Ayyub in his journey of discovery and adventure before he ascends to become celebrated Islamic leader and commander the world knows as Saladin.

 

 

Post-Production, Animation & Creative Content Association of Malaysia (POSTAM)

 

What is POSTAM’s mission?

POSTAM is the peak representative association for the Malaysian community of creative content producers involved in feature film, TV, animation, visual effects, games, new media and post-production.

POSTAM works hand-in-hand with domestic government and industry groups as well as international industry leaders to help develop and promote Malaysia’s filmed entertainment, digital content and media production industries to the global stage, via training and masterclasses, talent development, B2B matching, networking events, trade show representation and commercial access to international markets.

 

What are the various initiatives that POSTAM is involved with?

At the moment, we run networking events, masterclass sessions, seminars and represent the concerns of our industry in Malaysia to relevant government agencies.

 

Is POSTAM involved with international projects, or are most of its activities centralized in South-East Asia?

The SAAVA relationship is one of the key initiatives of POSTAM to bring its industry across the border to engage and collaborate with like-minded colleagues in the region, and beyond.

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Tiffany Lim has assisted local and international partners with their writing, design and marketing initiatives. ​ Tiffany has created original manuscripts and graphics for the Marshall Cavendish-published series, The April Fool's Apprentice. She was an assistant producer and lead writer for Secrets of the Swamp (2016), a Mediacorp-broadcasted telemovie, and has assisted the organising committee of the Southeast Asian Film Financing Forum (2015). Her extended resume may be found on her website - www.story-sight-studio.com

tiffany@mediaconnex.asia

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